Exercise and cognitive behavioral therapy may reduce menopausal symptoms among young women who have been treated for breast cancer. These results were presented at the eighth European Breast Cancer Conference (EBCC-8).

For women with breast cancer, treatments such as chemotherapy and hormonal therapy can be life-saving. Side effects, however, may include the sudden and early onset of menopausal symptoms. When severe, symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness can have a profound effect on quality of life.

To explore non-drug approaches to managing menopausal symptoms in young women with breast cancer, researchers in theNetherlandsconducted a study among 422 women with an average age of 48. The researchers assigned women to one of four groups:

  1. Cognitive behavioral therapy
  2. Physical exercise
  3. Cognitive behavioral therapy AND physical exercise
  4. None of the above (this was the control group)

Cognitive behavioral therapy consisted of six weekly group sessions. The sessions included relaxation exercises, and focused primarily on hot flashes and night sweats.

The exercise program was a 12-week, home-based program. Women were asked to exercise for 2 ½ to 3 hours per week at a level that allowed them to reach a target heart rate.

Women who received one of the interventions (exercise or cognitive behavioral therapy or both) experienced an overall decrease in menopausal symptoms, along with improvements in sexual and physical functioning. These benefits were still apparent six months later.

For women who are not able to take estrogen to manage menopausal symptoms, or who choose not to take estrogen, finding effective, non-hormonal approaches to managing menopausal symptoms is important. The current study reports on two promising approaches: regular physical activity and structured cognitive behavioral therapy.

Reference:OldenburgHSA, Duijts SFA, van Beurden MM et al. Efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy and physical exercise in alleviating treatment-induced menopausal symptoms in patients with breast cancer- results of a randomized controlled multicenter trial. Paper presented at: eighth European Breast Cancer Conference (EBCC8); March 21-24, 2012; Vienna,Austria. Abstract 199.

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